I love it when I hear “You would have freaked out if I did that bad of a job on the bathroom! You would have made me go back in there and clean the whole thing all over again!”
Yes, yes I would have.
I don’t exactly remember all the ins and outs of parenting my oldest two, but I do know that I raise each of my boys by a somewhat different – but similar – set of rules.
There is four years between my 18-year-old and my 14-year-old. And those years make a BIG difference – because I’ve changed over those four years, and so has the world.
Parenting is a little about raising my boys to be the best men they could possibly be and a lot about how I approach that process. And since I am the mom, I’m allowed to change that approach.
And because I grow and change, so does my parenting.
I don’t at all feel guilty about it.
I have never been one of those moms that treats all of her kids fairly.
My oldest had curfews when he was in high school. My 18-year-old does not. Funny, how my 17-year-old never complains about that one?
My 14-year-old got an iPhone the last month of his sixth grade year. My 18-year-old didn’t get one until he was in 7th grade; my oldest got his first phone in 8th grade. I don’t apologize.
And yes, I totally would have made my 18-year-old go back in and clean that bathroom again.
But I didn’t with my 14-year-old. And I just look at my 18-year-old, smile, and shrug, as in “deal with it.”
I don’t apologize for parenting each child differently. Why?
Because each child is different.
They each have their own unique strengths, their own weaknesses, and their own lessons that they need to learn in life. They were not created from a cookie-cutter mold.
So why would I parent them with a cookie-cutter approach?
I push my children where I know they need to be pushed. I let up when I know they have done well. And I dole out freedoms when they have earned my trust.
That bathroom may not have been up to my former standards, or to my 18-year old’s acquired standards, but my 18-year-old didn’t know that my poor 14-year-old had already re-cleaned it twice, and that it was way better than it was before he started.
I call that success.
My 18-year old doesn’t have a curfew, even though his older brother did when he was a senior in high school. Why?
Because he works hard, and he works a lot. When he’s not working, he is playing sports.
These things keep him busy, and they keep him from getting into trouble. When he does go out, he is usually home by 11:00. He always checks in with me, I always know where he is and what he is up to. And he texts me if he is going to be later than I thought he would be.
And so I’m good with that. Next year, he will be running around in whatever town he lands himself in, and I’ll have no idea what he is up to or when he finally turns in for the night.
It’s better to let him experiment with these adult freedoms while still under my roof. That way I can be there to help him if he makes a mistake. That way he can learn from his mistake – and my guidance – before too much damage is done.
Of course, if he had a history of getting into trouble, he most certainly would have a curfew, because I wouldn’t trust him then.
That would change the rule.
And I would not apologize.
Each child is different, but I have changed with each passing child as well.
Just like they say, I’m older and wiser. I’m busier and tired. And I let things slide that I never would have with the first child.
And I don’t apologize.
I have six boys; I’m allowed to be tired. I’ve earned the right to be more relaxed. And I can choose what is deemed ‘good enough’ in the season we are in.
Having a clean bathroom isn’t as important to me as it used to be. Lucky 14-year-old – my standards are lowered!
Trusting a 14-year-old with an Iphone isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be – especially when we got such a good deal on it! He was going to need it in just a couple more months, might as well get it while it’s on sale, right? I wasn’t about to pay extra just to keep things ‘even’.
The way we approach parenting changes over the years. As we grow in our skills, we alter and change the way we do things. This is good; this is what we want. We don’t want to be a stagnant parent, never-changing, never budging and never growing.
As I give my boys more and more freedom, I learn that they can handle more and more freedom.
Being 14 today is a lot different than being 14 four years ago.
So much changes so fast in this world!
And so our parenting needs to change as well.
I can’t raise my 14-year-old with the same rules I raised my 18-year-old when he was 14. It just wouldn’t make any sense.
Why my 18-year-old was younger, he played computer games on an old PC with dial-up internet. He still remembers the sound of the internet connecting.
He grew up with the first Sony Play Station, an old hand-held PSP and was excited when online gaming came out. He was around when the Wii was created and when we were first able to stream Netflix videos at home.
And that was all before his teenaged years! Now everything is streamed; discs are no longer needed and access to anything is instantly at our fingertips.
We can stay connected to our friends at all times. Over the years, it has limited the need for slumber parties – you don’t need to be in the same house to pull an all-nighter on the XBOX anymore.
Life is just different. So we parent differently.
No need to apologize for that.
And each child has left a legacy for the next one.
Good or bad.
My oldest was a very good child. He followed all of the rules. He never caused me any worry or grief. He didn’t drink, didn’t party. Met his curfew, did his chores, got straight A’s.
He was excellent.
And I learned to trust, not just him, but all of my boys. As I saw what he was capable of, I could see what all of my boys are capable of.
I’m sure it helped to raise my expectations for all of my boys, but it also helped to raise my level of trust in all of my boys.
If he would have been a partier, things would have turned out so much differently for the next in line.
I would have developed a belief that kids are not to be trusted, and would have clamped down on all of them. But instead, I learned to trust. And this benefited the next in line because I got rid of the curfew in his senior year, extending even more trust.
If my 18-year-old proves to me that he can’t handle not having a curfew, you can bet your button that my 14-year-old will have a curfew when he is 18.
But we learn how to parent from the way our children behave. We learn how to parent as we grow older. We adjust our parenting as the times change, and we adapt our parenting to the needs of each child.
No child is the same.
No era is the same.
And we are not the same.
So our parenting should not be the same for each child.
The next time you set a rule for your youngest, just because it’s always been that way, stop and think for a minute. Is it an outdated notion? Is it a boundary that no longer meets a need? Can you trust the youngest with more responsibility?
Shannon Lambert is a freelance writer living in Northern Minnesota. She writes for parenting blogs and nonprofit organizations, and has a background in social work and psychology. She blogs about building a relationship with your child at makingmommas.com.